Thursday, December 17, 2015

Brief Interview with Zoe Polach

Zoe Polach’s poem “The Tulip Poplar” appears in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of Poet Lore, the poetry publication of The Writer’s Center. Polach’s poetry has appeared in [PANK] and RHINO. Editorial assistant Emily Tuttle recently emailed Polach with questions about the decisions that shaped her narrative poem.






ET: Amazing descriptions of nature are effortlessly woven into your poem “The Tulip Poplar.” Is nature imagery a common theme in your work? Do you have a particular subject you consistently enjoy writing about?

ZP: I do write about landscapes a lot, but this poem in particular comes kind of circuitously out of some academic work I had been doing. At school that spring, I had been doing some research projects on nature in early medieval English culture, where the lines between what we now might categorize as art, religious devotion, and scientific observation were drawn very differently. And that was in Chicago, which, for someone who had previously been in the Mid-Atlantic all her life, was almost alarmingly flat and square. So there were these two unfamiliar landscapes I was trying to wrap my head around.

And then I came home and—I had learned all of these things in school about the historical and sociological and economic construction of the American suburb, and it was actually not something I thought I wanted to write about—but the storm hit and I was just bowled over, both by the sheer physical force of it and the depth of my emotional response. This place felt more real to me than any other place. And I realized the material reality of the landscape was inscribed in my memory, in my body, in ways I hadn't understood.

ET: Your prose-like language helps the poem read in a distinct narrative style. What do you think your piece is able to accomplish as a poem that it wouldn’t as a prose piece?

ZP: This is a really interesting question for me because I spent a long time smooshing the beginning around between different styles and genres without getting anywhere. I even tried prose, briefly. Part of the problem was that I hadn't written a line like this before—the other work I was writing was very compressed, your more typical lyric, and I knew this poem needed to move differently.

As I went through more and more drafts I started to think of what I wanted as “a walking pace,” the way your thoughts roll along after you've been walking for a long time. You think about one thing for a while, and then go around a bend—either physically or mentally—and there's a complete break in your train of thought, but it feels smooth because you're still on the same path.

I dug up some earlier drafts of the poem to help me answer these questions, and looking back, I'd actually forgotten how many of the digressions I'd had to cut and rewrite, sometimes multiple times, to try to get that effect. I was lucky to be guided in that by a lot of good advice from my writing workshop and my thesis advisor, Chicu Reddy.

ET: When reading your poem, one thing that stood one to me was the other characters in the piece being given letters rather than names. What was your inspiration for doing this, and how do you think it adds to the reading of the poem?

ZP: It was really an ad-hoc practical solution. Once you get more than a couple characters on stage at a time, clarity starts to become a problem. Initials provide that, but they also draw an air of privacy around the proceedings, as though the poem could be an excerpt from a diary or a letter. It's not a choice I've made elsewhere, but it worked in this case.

ET: For local Marylanders, many of us remember the hurricane that sets the scene for your piece, yet it is described with such vivid detail—did you start this piece in 2012 when it happened, or is the piece done all from memory?

ZP: I started working on this late in the fall of 2012, I think, but I didn't finish it until the next spring. Actually, my memory of the derecho was so strong that it proved to be a little bit of a liability when editing time came around. People kept telling me I had to cut down the beginning, where I described the storm coming in, and I kept not doing it, because it seemed so important to describe what that feeling of foreboding was like, exactly, even if I hadn't built up any momentum yet. Well, they were right. But I wish I'd written another poem about that.

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You can follow Zoe Polach's work starting next week on the Theatre Prometheus blog, where she'll be giving an ongoing insider look on her role as dramaturg in the company's all-female production of Macbeth, opening April 2016.

For more information on the current issue of Poet Lore, visit: http://poetlore.com/current-issue/


Emily Tuttle is a senior English major with a double minor in creative writing and neuroscience at the University of Maryland College Park. She has interned with Poet Lore for one year, and currently serves as the editor-in-chief for the University's critical and creative journals, Paper Shell Review and Stylus

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